O'Reilly Theatre, Dublin

Opened 8 October, 2009


Robert Lepage maintains that this is not a sequel to his masterly The Dragons’ Trilogy, but since it centres on a character from that earlier work, picking up his story 15 years after he announced his intention to relocate to China, this may be rather a nice distinction. What is clear is that The Blue Dragon is not of a piece with the trilogy in terms either of form or content. The most fundamental difference is that Lepage and his Ex Machina company have now had direct experience of China; consequently, where it stood in the Trilogy for an element of exoticism and otherness in the hybrid immigrant fabric of Canadian life, it is now approached as a nexus of concepts in its own right and with a greater awareness of the complexities it carries both in itself and in relations with westerners. Early in this piece Pierre makes a flippant remark about Chinese laundries, parodying both himself and a major emblem of Chineseness used in the Trilogy.

In dramatic structure, this is an extraordinarily linear play by Lepage’s standards. It is as if he finds enough richness in the subject to feel it unnecessary to digress or fragment his narrative. It consists of an almost classically pure love triangle: Pierre (played by Henri Chassé), who now runs an art gallery in Shanghai; Xiao Ling (Tai Wei Foo), a young artist client of his; and Claire (Marie Michaud), his ex-wife from Montreal. When Claire arrives en route to an attempt to adopt a Chinese infant and take her back to Canada, the two of them negotiate their common history and also Pierre’s relationship with Xiao Ling, which is obvious although never spelt out. Claire develops a friendship of her own with Xiao Ling, and when the latter finds herself pregnant we are in no doubt how the plot will progress.

Lepage’s visual sense is as seductive as ever. A multi-panelled screen periodically descends in front of the playing area, to depict examples of multi-valent Chinese calligraphy which Pierre interprets for us, or simply falling snow, or at one point eight separate aerial views of parts of the Yangtse-Kiang river, each one following its course by panning in a different direction. Similarly, Claire and Xiao-Ling bicycle through Shanghai past a landscape composed of a projected diorama and several miniature models. But as I say, the proceedings remain fundamentally on a human scale. Humanity has always been at the centre of Lepage’s dramatic pictures, but here it comprises virtually the entire picture, with the larger themes visible only through the prisms of these three individuals. And in the closing minutes a flash of echt-Lepage coruscates across the stage, as the same airport farewell scene with the three characters and Xiao Ling’s baby is played out with identical lines but differing gestures that provide three separate interpretations of who flies back, with whom, and who stays. The narrative we had taken for granted turns out to be far more multi–levelled and open to interpretation, like so many aspects of China.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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